Don’t be the podcast clown who turns up to someone else’s podcast without a microphone or headset. Earbuds or Airpods at the very minimum to make you sound good. Running off your laptop microphone in a reverby room will make audiences feel cold. The time and resources you’re investing in podcast guesting merit a decent microphone.
A USB Microphone like the Blue Yeti costs $150-200 and is a good starting point. If possible, get a good stand, as your stand is probably more important for sound quality than the microphone itself.
In this video, the Graham discusses the importance of having good audio for podcast guesting. Good audio makes it easier for the host to engage with the guest, the audience to feel more connected, and for the guest to enjoy the podcast.
Audio engineering is a science in itself, so there isn’t enough real estate to discus the optimum setup for podcast guesting in this book. In short, this is a simple setup that fixes most problems:
- USB Microphone like Blue Yeti or Audio Technica AT series plus a boom / scissor stand attached to your desk
- Your Mic needs to be 30cm max away from your mouth to sound good. If your Mic is on the desk or far away from you, the audio will pick up reverb, air conditioning and all kinds of background noises
- If you want an easy quick fix, get a Logitech H Series USB headset. I use the H370 for internal Zoom calls as it’s easy to set up and has a reasonable audio quality. While the microphone itself is lower quality than a more expensive USB stand mic, the fact it’s a headset close to your voice offsets the room noise and quality loss experienced with poorly positioned USB microphones. Plus, the headset follows you around. See the next point about Mic Technique.
- Many non-professional podcasts are unaware of something like “Mic Technique”. If you watch Joe Rogan on Youtube he speaks close to the Mic and moves it with him on the boom stand when he shifts in his chair (see Joe Rogan and Steve Tyler here and pay attention to how close they are to the mics). I speak into the mic with my mouth just about touching the foam. I use the same mic (Shure SM7B) because it has amazing audio quality but it’s an XLR mic so it will cost around $1000 with a mixer and stand. A $50-$100 on a Logitech H series headset while not sounding like the Shure, will make sure you don’t sound bad.
- Avoid being “too hot” as they say in the business. Hot mics “clip”, meaning they peak out and distort. This is the red zone on the mic input level. Better to be slightly lower than what sounds normal than louder because a soft voice can be amplified in post production, but a hot voice cannot be un-distorted.
- For stand USB microphones you might consider a pop shield (the small round shields that sit between you and the mic to prevent p-p-p-p-plosives distorting the sound). Expensive mics don’t need them as they often have plosive shields built inside.
- Avoid recording in empty rooms, rooms without furniture or soft things (like sofas, cushions, people). These rooms are full of reverb. The one thing an engineer can’t fix with a recording is reverb. It’s very hard to remove and it’s very common. Meeting rooms in offices and coworking spaces are usually TERRIBLE. Avoid at all costs as they have every bad aspect of poor audio: square shape, glass walls, hard plastic tables, stone floors, loud aircon. You may not be completely aware inside the meeting room under normal conditions that’s because your brain is hard at work filtering out reverb it hears to run its own algorithm across the noise to clean it up. But put that on an audio recording and it will sound like you’re in a bathroom.
- I know many voice over artists who record in their closets. I recently recorded an interview with a friend remotely and he sat in his airing cupboard. Fortunately it was a large room full of clothing which dampened reverb. Hotel rooms are good for recording as they are full of soft furnishings and cushions. Cushions make great sound traps to stick behind the microphone between the mic and the wall. If you speak into the mic the sound carries through the mic hits the wall behind and then bounces back into the other side of the mic a split second later creating that “standing in a stairwell” effect. Not facing a hard wall or using a cushion will dampen this interference.
CHECKLIST OF COMMON SOUND ISSUES TO AVOID
- Never use a Laptop microphone
- Avoid Airpods or any wireless headset (these are good for zoom calls but not so good for podcast recording; they are better than internal laptop microphones though, if you are stuck for options)
- Avoid Empty meeting rooms
- Avoid Table stands for microphones as they pick up rumble and disturbance (boom arms better, or a headset works fine)
- Avoid Standing the mic far from your mouth. 0-30 cm is optimum. The further away you are from the mic, the less depth (warmth) the sound quality, the more you’ll pic up all the background interference like a fan, reverb or a fridge.
- Check the microphone is set up right. The Blue Yeti for example has a front and a back. When I started out I recorded podcasts speaking into the back of the microphone, unaware such a thing existed. You speak into it as it was parallel to your head. You can see people on Youtube speaking into the top of it or set it up on a boom stand with the top pointing at their mouth as if it was a traditional reporter’s interview mic, which it’s not. These microphones are design to “pick up” sound in an optimum pattern, meaning sounds outside the bubble is reduced as the mic thinks it’s background noise. While it may look strange, the setup in this Youtube video for the Blue Yeti is reasonably good as she’s speaking into the side of the mic’s body, not the top.
MY AUDIO SETUP
- If you’re serious about podcasting long term get an XLR microphone. I’ve used the Logitech broadcaster headsets with Tony Fernades here and you can see the advantage being that the voice quality stays consistent throughout the interview. Personally, I prefer the Shure SM7B – you can see me using it here on my Podcasting for Brands live stream. I run my SM7B into a Yamaha MGXU mixer via XLR cabling and then back out via USB into my laptop. I run Audio Technica headsets out of the mixer. The whole setup costs just over $1000
PRO TIP – HOW TO SOUND AMAZING
- Most people don’t know what amazing sounds like until they hear it. I’m often complimented on my microphone sound because it’s rich and warm. It has depth and range (meaning it picks up all the frequencies and subtleties of your voice). While it has taken him 20 or 30 years of voice work, listen to Howard Stern’s voice here. That’s the product of a great setup, mic technique and voice skill.
- Wear headphones during the podcast. The more you hear yourself and the host clearly, the more you can connect with audio. I run AT headphones out of my mixer as a “monitor” of both my voice and that of the host. It’s like a musician wearing an earpiece or using a monitor on stage. When you get feedback on your own voice you become more aware of how you use it, modulate it and emphasize it.
- Great speakers are performing. They exaggerate to create engagement. They develop a meta awareness of their own voice when talking and use that to create emotion and drama.
- Practise a lot. Your voice will change and improve. Your style will improve.
- And lastly, listen to yourself. Get over it. Get over the cringe. The more you listen back to yourself the better you’ll get it.